“Portrait of Peter I” by Mikhail Lomonosov
In one of the Hermitage halls, mosaic works created by the great Russian scientist and his students are exhibited. Among these works, the portrait of Peter I stands out – a convincing confirmation of Lomonosov’s outstanding artistic talent. He began working as a mosaic technologist after his acquaintance in 1746-1750 with the mosaic works brought from Italy called “The Weeping Apostle Peter” and “The Portrait of the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna”. They were recruited in Rome in the Vatican mosaic workshop. The ancient Russian mosaics of Kiev and Novgorod of the 11th – 12th centuries also served as an inspiring model for Lomonosov. The Russian scientist dreamed of reviving the monumental art “for the decoration of huge public buildings,” capable of “solving the tasks of state and national art.” Lomonosov expressed his attitude to the mosaic in the poem “A Letter on the Use of Glass …”:
The secret of making smalt – colored glassy masses – was forgotten in Russia at that time, but in Europe it was kept in strict secrecy. Since 1749, Lomonosov began the development of technology for the manufacture of discrete glasses, smalt and dyes for them. His achievements have received pan-European recognition. Academician Euler wrote to the scientist: “You have a worthy cause, that you can give all possible colors to glass. The local chemists revere this invention for a great cause. ” 112 tones and over 1000 shades included a Lomonosov mosaic palette. This far exceeded the color range of the Vatican workshop. Conducting scientific research, Lomonosov did not limit his task to obtaining only smalt. He sought to create a technological process of manufacturing optical, glassware, enamel, beads and glass beads.
In 1752, having completed an enormous research work, Lomonosov managed to convince the Senate to grant him the right to manufacture colored glass in Russia. For these purposes, a special decree in the Kaporsky district near Oranienbaum (now the city of Lomonosov) on the Ruditsa River established the Ust-Ruditsky factory. The company installed mixing and grinding and polishing machines designed by Lomonosov. The first factory produced in 1754. The product range included: glass beads, beads, snuff boxes, mugs, decanters, inkpots, table tops, but most importantly – colored smalt.
Lomonosov began working on a portrait of Peter I in a mosaic workshop on Vasilyevsky Island, and continued in Ust-Ruditsa. Initially, he made a drawing in color from the famous pictorial images of Peter I: the face – from the portrait of L. Caravaque, and the armor – from the portrait of J.-M. Nattier. For the set, small sizes of small sizes (2 centimeters) were used.
The set technique invented by Lomonosov was as follows. An iron or copper box with low sides (1.5–2 centimeters) was used for the base of the mosaic. It was filled with a temporary primer of a mixture of alabaster and fish glue. Lomonosov carried out selection of mosaic cubes on a carefully smoothed surface using a base and filling the resulting depressions with oil-rosin mastic. The pieces of smalt were pressed into the mastic and tightly fitted to each other so that the seam between them was only 0.2–0.5 mm. Then on the machines, the mosaic was polished and polished first with sand and then with pumice and tripoli powder.
The portrait of Peter I is distinguished by high artistic merit. The image of a man of indomitable energy and creative impulse is deeply and soulfully embodied. Expressive face, composed of pinkish and light brown smalt of various shades. The blackened patches, the moire ribbon of the Order of St. Andrew the First-Called, the tie and the ermine fur of the mantle are brilliantly conveyed by bright, multi-colored smalts.
The inventor of the Russian mosaic had many students – artists M. Vasiliev, E. Melnikov, M. Meshkov, J. Shalaurov, masters-smelt goods: I. Tsilkha, F. Rogozhin, P. Kirillov. Later they created three more portraits of Peter I, but less significant in artistic terms. In total, 40 mosaics scored by Lomonosov and his followers are known from documents. There are 23 works in museums of the country, six of which are in the Hermitage. The location of the other 17 is unknown.
The largest mosaic picture of the Lomonosov workshop, the “Poltava Battle” (1761–1765), now adorns the upper lobby of the Academy of Sciences building in Leningrad. This is the only realized work from the grandiose project of the monument to Peter I. In 1758, Lomonosov presented to the competition organized by the Senate a project to decorate the interior of the Peter and Paul Cathedral, where Peter I. was buried. The scientist attached to the project a great patriotic meaning: “to perpetuate the works of Peter the Great in edifying mosaics in picturesque mosaic works for the edification of posterity”. In connection with the death of Lomonosov in 1765, this idea was not completed, the Ust-Ruditsky factory gradually fell into decay and soon ceased to exist.